Hiding Data – DeSantis Staffed Public Service Commission Drops Requirement for Electricity Companies to Tell How Many Disconnections Due to Non Payment

Posted originally on the CTH on March 7, 2023 | Sundance 

It’s a local Florida story and multi-faceted. However, for the bigger national audience the issue that should be considered is that Ron DeSantis and the Florida Republican party took $9+ million in campaign contributions from state energy providers, then approved the biggest electricity rate hikes in Florida history.

Additionally, and more obscure in the outcome, the Public Service Commission (Public Utility Commission, or PUC), after being filled with DeSantis appointees, informed the electricity providers they no longer needed to report the number of residents who were disconnected from utility service due to nonpayment.

One could make the intellectual and political argument, the scale of disconnection -which is quite alarming- would be averse to the interests of Governor DeSantis seeking a higher office.

Like much of the country, electricity rates in Florida have skyrocketed with the increase in natural gas prices.  However, unlike much of the country, most Florida residents have only one option for electrical utility power.  The rate of disconnection in Florida amid lower income and working families is far greater than almost any other state.  Florida is quickly becoming a class-driven society with haves and have-nots.

FLORIDA –  […] In November 2021, Florida’s Public Service Commission (PUC) issued a memorandum allowing  electric utilities to stop disclosing their shutoff data. The memorandum, which reversed the commission’s September 2020 decision to collect the data to track the pandemic’s effects on utility customers, came after DeSantis stacked the board with his appointees. The move came less than a month after commission members approved the largest electric rate hike in Florida’s history, resulting in a 20 percent increase in costs to residential ratepayers.

Now it’s impossible to know how many customers have been disconnected from their electric utilities for being unable to pay their increasing power bills. NextEra — the parent company of Florida’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light — disconnected 738,000 Floridians in 2021 and 1.1 million Americans nationwide since 2020, according to a report from Bailout Watch last month. If that disconnection rate continued, noted the report, NextEra would have shut off 1.2 million customers in 2022. But we do not know the total, because the DeSantis-appointed Florida PUC allowed them to hide the data.

[…] In early December, the Bailout Watch report noted, Florida regulators approved a fuel rider, or a cost increase tied to the price of fuel, allowing utilities to pass the cost of higher fuel prices to consumers, without affecting their enormous profits. Company executives have been handsomely rewarded for such political wins. Top executives at NextEra gave themselves a 59 percent raise between 2020 to 2021. (read more)

One of the reasons I became confident last year that Ron DeSantis was planning a 2024 presidential bid, was the one-and-done nature of his focus.

Florida working class residents are under extreme economic duress as a result of unavoidable increases in energy costs (home cooling), massive increases in insurance costs (tripling of homeowners, doubling of auto), skyrocketing housing costs (largest in nation) and these financial struggles are atop general inflation costs driven by national economic policy.

Throughout 2022 Governor DeSantis focused almost exclusively on social issue constructs, and the economic policies of Florida -while more challenging to address- have been exclusively unattended.  From the 30,000 ft level, the disconnect in executive priority becomes more explainable when you consider the management team was assembling a policy strategy for media and public consumption.

Throughout my research and review on the managers and background of DeSantis team, it just became obvious (mid-summer ’22) there was a longer-term plan in the background, created in the latter part of 2021 and everything thereafter -a severe emphasis on social issues- was a political management and national branding approach.  If you overlay the hindsight timelines, including the PUC story, one can see the proactive political construct to control any negative issues.

Regardless of where his national political intentions land, moving forward Florida residents -especially the working poor and working class- are going to be faced with severe and worsening financial hardship, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will likely not be around to see or address most of it as it surfaces publicly.  That is an unfortunate and depressing realization.

I don’t dislike the guy, I’m just heartbroken at what I see happening in my state.

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